Scouting the Broncos: Linebackers

The question of whether the Broncos will run a 4-3 next season has been answered in the affirmative by John Fox, and changes to the linebacking corps will be forthcoming. There will be a few keys to which scheme the team primarily uses - and the choices of which LBs are kept, which are not, and who is brought in will be central to this decision. I’m going to talk in general about the LB corps, listing the current players and noting some thoughts on them today. At this point, most of us are fairly familiar with the basic duties of the LBs in each system (see the last two entries of Fat Camp for a refresher), so I’ll be more specific as to which I like for each and why.

First and foremost, here’s the issue: according to Brian Xanders, Fox wants smaller, faster linebackers, with coverage as well as run-stopping and pass-rushing skills. That’s normal in most 4-3 approaches, but a long way from most of what Denver has accumulated. He wants them to be smaller, faster and more disruptive. This is a good example of the reason that you try to avoid changing coaches in a nutshell: it’s a tall order, it means finding a new kind of player for the team, and at first glance, I didn’t see it happening. After looking over the linebacker player pool carefully, it isn’t going to be easy either, although it’s doable, depending on whether there’s free agency this year, and whether Denver is willing to pay good money. Certainly, as often happens, some fan favorites such as Mario Haggan may not survive the change, although he’s a very possible temporary fill-in. With these general ideas in mind, here are the current players:

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Shiny toy Peterson Lard 3-2-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Matt Bowen writes that after yesterday's performance, the Broncos could have trouble passing up the chance to draft Patrick Peterson. The 6-foot, 219-pound corner (that's 27 pounds heavier than Champ Bailey) ran a 4.34 official 40 time - so he's as big as a safety but as fast as a top corner, which means he could easily be utilized anywhere in the secondary. However, Bowen also says that with Peterson's considerable skills, this is not a player that you'd move inside to play safety.

The philosophy of taking the best player available is almost never misplaced, but at #2 overall is there really enough of a difference between these players to pass over a canyonesque area of need like DT or LB? Isn't it splitting hairs to say Peterson may be a better prospect than Nick Fairley, Von Miller or Marcell Dareus? Considering the needs of this Broncos team, Peterson seems at this point more like a luxury - yes, we at IAOFM talk all the time about the importance of passing and stopping the pass. But who do we have at linebacker that qualifies as a sure thing, even less a star? Nobody. The luster has been off DJ Williams for quite some time now, Joe Mays and Mario Haggan may be too big and/or slow for whatever John Fox and Dennis Allen come up with, and as much as we love him, Wesley Woodyard is an undersized player with durability issues. Justin Bannan and Marcus Thomas are solid players, but is either one a difference maker, an impact player? A disrupter? Most definitely not. What do you think? Should Patrick Peterson be a consideration for Denver at #2?

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Judge rules against NFL regarding TV money

Judge David Doty has tonight dealt a serious blow to NFL owners in their negotiations with the players over a new collective bargaining agreement. Doty ruled that the financial protection the owners had built into their most recent television contracts did not align with their stated desire to avoid a player lockout. In the event of a lockout, the networks which broadcast NFL games had agreed to still pay the owners $4 billion, although much of it would have been offset in future seasons. Doty's statement reads, in part:

The court overrules the special master's findings as to the NFL's breach of the (Collective Bargaining Agreement) relating to its contracts with DirecTV, CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN, and holds that the NFL breached the (CBA) as to those contracts.

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The Playbook Abides: Living here in Allentown; The overload blitz.

Several weeks ago, my colleague Ted Bartlett looked at what the Broncos might be doing this year as they try to incorporate Dennis Allen's aggressive style of defense into John Fox's generally non-aggressive 4-3, where pressure is generated primarily by the front four defenders.  If you haven't had a chance to read that piece, I would suggest taking another look.

Fox says he gives his coordinators free rein, so it's more than likely that Allen will bring at least some of the aggressive 46 to Denver.   As current Saints coach Sean Payton said just the other day about Allen in the Denver Post:

"He'll be aggressive, blitz. Emphasis on the takeaway. He's very bright, a great staff guy. He was very instrumental in the success we've had."

This quote should fill the hearts of every Broncos fan with glee.  That's because the system the Saints use isn't just talk.  It's probably the most aggressive system in the entire league.  

How does this aggression translate to the field?  This offseason, we'll take a look using actual plays from the Saints (and sometimes the Panthers if needed) to demonstrate what Allen will likely bring to the table.  Today, let's examine the overload blitz.

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CP Lard 3-1-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Clinton Portis was released by Shanny and the Skins yesterday after seven seasons in Washington.

While CP was only a Bronco for two seasons, he remains one of my all-time favorites - drafted 51st overall in 2002, Portis was a faster (albeit not quite as durable) version of Terrell Davis who incredibly racked up 1,872 yards from scrimmage and 17 TDs as a rookie despite not becoming the team's primary ballcarrier until Week 5.

He backed that performance up in his sophomore season with 1,905 yards and 14 TDs despite missing three games due to injury, but then Shanny dealt him to DC for Champ and a second-rounder (Tatum Bell) - it was a deal of two superstars who wanted more money, and one of the most significant player-for-player trades in NFL history. In his brief Denver career, Portis posted a remarkable 5.5 yards per attempt and 106.9 per game, with 29 rushing touchdowns on 563 carries.

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Talegating: History of the NFL Draft, Part 2

Back in 2008 at about this same time of the year, with both the Combine and the draft upcoming, I found myself looking back through the history of the NFL to try and learn exactly how each of those two essential processes had begun. I quickly found that there was a vast wealth of information available on the subject, and starting collecting books that referenced them, articles that covered their past as well as the present, and I also started questioning people who I knew were familiar with those subjects. The history of the draft is interwoven into the NFL, which was the first league to hold a reverse-order draft for its teams. Last Monday, we examined the league's formative decades -the 1920s and '30s; today we'll take a look at the monumental developments that followed in the 1940s. I hope you'll enjoy it.

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End of the line for DG? Lard 2-28-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Legwold slipped an interesting little nugget into one of his columns today - he mentioned that Denver would likely release some veterans who are due roster bonuses this week. Of course, he didn't bother to do any research regarding who the prime candidates may be. So, who may be on the chopping block? Justin Bannan is due a $500,000 bonus and will make $3.5 million each of the next two seasons. Let's call him an unlikely cut, but a possibility depending upon the Broncos' draft plan. Not only does Kyle Orton have a $1.5 million roster bonus coming his way, but he's also guaranteed almost $2.9 million of his 2011 salary. Can't see it as being within the realm of possibility, but it sure would be fascinating to see/hear the reaction to a release of Orton after last week.

There is one veteran, however, who sounds like a prime candidate to be cut - TE Daniel Graham. He's set to earn a $1 million roster bonus and a salary of $4.2 million, and although he's still an excellent blocker, he did seem to have a bit more of the dropsies in 2010. Perhaps that was just magnified due to a lack of targets? Either way, $5.2 million for one season of play out of a 32-year-old Graham (he'll turn 33 in November) with no team control beyond this season seems expensive. If so, and Graham is cut, then perhaps Legwold was correct last week in speculating that Denver needs to draft a TE - he just completely whiffed on the reasoning. However, it deserves mention that his colleague Klis did point to Graham's salary as a looming issue early last month. Hopefully he's amenable to a pay cut and will stick around...

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Schein box Lard 2-27-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! I'm not sure I've linked to Adam Schein and his waxed-but-still-hideous eyebrows since we started IAOFM, but he wrote something so ridiculous (granted, this is his specialty) yesterday that it's gotta be mentioned. After having spoken to John Elway and Brain Xanders in recent weeks, Schein writes that he "(doesn't) think (Tim) Tebow has much of a future in Denver." Frankly, it's not even worth breaking down Schein's thought process.

Why such negative feelings toward Schein? Well, aside from his horrific writing, he happens to co-host a show called "Loud Mouths" (go figure) on the Mets' TV station. Although I would never choose to watch the show (really, all they do is endeavor to live up to the show's title), the constant commercials when watching the Mets or Big East hoops are unavoidable. And sometimes while watching whatever is next on the programming schedule, I stumble into seeing the last minute or two of Schein yelling at either the camera or his co-host. It's torture, truly.

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Xanders quote-fest Lard 2-26-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! John Elway and Brain Xanders spoke to reporters at the Combine yesterday; Elway describing his first experiences with interviewing players and what he's looking for out of their game tapes. He basically said he wants defenders he would have had to have accounted for while lining up behind center, and also talked of John Fox helping seal the deal with Champ Bailey. Xanders had some real gems:

  • Regarding Champ Bailey: "There was never a question that we wouldn't have him"
  • On Lombardi's claim that there's little support at Dove Valley for Tim Tebow, presumably from Xanders and Mike McCoy: "First of all, I think that report was false...So, that report was false."
  • As for Elvis Dumervil's return: "We're dealing right now on our team with Elvis, he didn't play last year. But we anticipate that we're going to go off that '09 tape, and he had 17 sacks."
  • On his own place within the Broncos' FO: "It's a great opportunity for myself to have an expanded role."

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Why Champ Bailey really re-signed with the Broncos

Now that Champ Bailey signed his new contract, I have to hand it to the Broncos' front office.

They can now check off point 1A on their offseason to-do list.

I'd like to give specific praise to Brian "The Body" Xanders for getting this deal done.  Whatever we think here of Xanders' verbal acumen, he's accounted himself well on this deal.  I'll put off waterboarding Xanders for another time.  

From Champ's point of view, you might be thinking to yourself, Champ signed with the Broncos because he really believes he can win a championship in Denver.

Not so fast, Boy Wonder.  I've got the real reasons, just after the jump...

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